Review : Rufus Wainwright - Milwaukee at Last!!!
PitchforkMilwaukee at Last!!! is Rufus Wainwright's second live album, but it might as well be his first. In 2007, Rufus Does Judy Live at Carnegie Hall documented his song-for-song and nearly banter-for-banter restaging of Judy Garland's infamous 1961 performance, and Wainwright's slavish devotion to her performance made it an act of impersonation rather than interpretation. He was living his own dream of pop stardom; it was an odd affair, since his primary audience ultimately was himself.
Wainwright hints at that same stagey role-playing early on in Milwaukee at Last!!! As the audience at the Pabst Theater applauds his grandiloquent version of opener "Release the Stars", he declares, with mock humility, "Thank you. I wasn't expecting that." Of course he was expecting that. Who doesn't expect applause? But soon the show loosens up and Wainwright plays the role he was born to play: himself. He runs through "Going to a Town" and "Sanssouci" with all the debonair insouciance that he made his name on, and his agile seven-man backing band smoothly inflates the bombast of "Release the Stars" and "Rules and Regulations". It loses a bit of steam in the second set, when he gives too much time over to big, plodding numbers like the medley "Not Ready to Love/Slideshow" and a cover of the early 19th century Irish ballad "Macushla" But he recovers with closer "Gay Messiah", a Want Two stand-out whose porn-religious imagery makes it a fitting closer. Where do you go from there?
MusicomhFollowing hot on the heels of Rufus Wainwright's rather tepidly received opera, Prima Donna, the Canadian's second live album in less than two years is a very different beast to his mammoth Carnegie Hall tribute to Judy Garland.
For a start, there's just 10 songs here - the vast majority of which come from the Release The Stars album. This isn't a place for the newcomer to gain an overview of Wainwright's career so far - there's no Dinner At Eight, 14th Street, One Man Guy, Cigarettes & Chocolate Milk: in fact just the one song from the Want sessions is here, and there's nothing at all from Wainwright's first two albums.
ContactmusicThis is a live CD, meant as a companion to the DVD also going on sale in a little while. As I haven't seen the DVD, the image immediately conjured is one of a recording in a smoky cabaret club, owing to the swing band happily trumpeting away in the background, juxtaposing the piano. It fits brilliantly with Wainwright's mournful voice and adds to the atmosphere of the album, spanning 10 cuts from the show.
This is recorded nicely, crowd noise is kept to a minimum between songs and Wainwright is studio perfect, dropping not a note over the course of about an hour. Personally, I prefer a more intimate sound with a little extra crowd, ala Coheed and Cambria's excellent Neverender shows, but I am aware that the target audience for this will not be anticipating a real 'live' sound when compared with a heavier band's live albums. I'm sure that on the DVD, this doesn't matter quite so much, but when listening, it can be a barrier to feeling as if you were actually present at the concert.
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